PBS documentary features University of Hawaii professor’s discovery of ‘thread-legged bugs’
  • Monday, March 25, 2019
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PBS documentary features University of Hawaii professor’s discovery of ‘thread-legged bugs’

  • COURTESY MICHAEL SLAY VIA UNIVERSITY OF HAWAII

    The “thread-legged bug” is featured in a new PBS documentary.

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A professor from the University of Hawaii at Manoa and her discovery of the “thread-legged bug” in a lava tube is featured on PBS’s new documentary “Living Volcanoes.”

Megan Porter, an associate professor in the Department of Biology in the College of Natural Sciences, discovered the rare bug while exploring lava tubes on Hawaii island.

The PBS documentary explores how life adapts and thrives in the shadow of active volcanoes around the globe — from Kilauea to Mount Etna. It notes that 90 percent of native species in Hawaii are found nowhere else on the planet and that these caves were created by underground rivers of lava that have since run dry.

Porter is featured crawling through a lava tube, with a hardhat and headlamp, exploring this thriving ecosystem within the volcano.

“The really amazing thing about lava tubes is as soon as that lava’s drained and it’s cooled, then there are spaces available for animals to live in,” says Porter in the documentary.

The translucent, thread-legged bug, a relative of the praying mantis, is featured up close and in action. Porter explains that it is called thread-legged because of its very long, thin, and spindly legs.

“I think there are so many new species in these sorts of environments because of the volcano,” she said, “because it’s such an active system, both destroying and creating new habitat, and opens up space for species to move underground, and to evolve and to become very distinct.”

Over the last four years, Porter and her colleagues, Annette Engel from The University of Tennessee Knoxville, Christy Slay from The Sustainability Consortium, and Mike Slay from The Nature Conservancy, have been documenting unique species new to science found only in the labyrinth of Hawaii’s lava tubes, including the “thread-legged bug.”

The Cave Conservancy Foundation has funded their work, and they are also working with the Cave Conservancy of Hawaiʻi to ensure the new species and ecosystem they are documenting are protected.

The 60-minute PBS documentary, which debuted Feb. 20 is available via online streaming until March 20. Porter’s appearance begins shortly after the 38-minute mark. More information is available at pbs.org/nature.

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